FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - Military leaders from Central America visited U.S. Army North throughout the day Jan. 30 as part of the Central American Regional Leaders' Conference, hosted by U.S. Army South, in a cooperative effort to establish closer ties between militaries and to improve coordination on common issues.

In the morning, international students from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, based in Fort Benning, Ga., visited Army North to learn about the mission and structure of the U.S. Northern Command's Joint Force Land Component Command.

"The WHINSEC visit allowed us to highlight Army North's role in defending the homeland in depth through security cooperation with our neighboring countries -- Canada and Mexico," said Maj. Albert Marckwardt, Mexico branch officer, Army North. "For the students, equivalent to the U.S. Army ranks of major and lieutenant colonel, it was also an opportunity to understand how we support civilian authorities at the tactical and operational level."

WHINSEC students from Panama, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Canada, Belize and Mexico learned about Army North's unique missions and discussed regional efforts with hemispheric partner nations to combat transnational criminal organizations.

In the afternoon, arriving from Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters at Army North's helipad, military leaders from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and Panama's director of its National Border Service toured Army North's historic Quadrangle, attended command briefings and heard from Oscar Salinas Jr., assistant chief, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, who touted the success Army North has had working with the Mexican land and air forces, known as SEDENA, or Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional.

"The Border Patrol's new strategic plan focuses on integration with federal, state, local and foreign partnerships," said Salinas. "The collaboration between Army North and SEDENA is one example of this integration."

While WHINSEC students have visited Army North in years past, the visit of Army commanders from Central America to Army North was unique.

"This is probably the first time we've worked this closely with Army South and with Central American army commanders, and this greater dialogue is a healthy thing," said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commanding general, Army North (Fifth Army), and senior commander, Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis.

Caldwell discussed the relationship Army North has built with SEDENA.

"We've been building our interactions over the years -- and we want it to continue," said Caldwell.

Maj. Gen. Perry Wiggins, deputy commanding general - operations, Army North, discussed the importance of building relationships and fostering communication in combating transnational criminal organizations.

"They're going to move to the path of least resistance," said Wiggins. "A solution without Central America, South America, Canada and Mexico gives them a gap. Our adversary we're dealing with is very smart. (If we) protect the land and water, (then) they use ultralights and tunnels."

Progress has been made, but there is more to be done, and Army North needs to foster relationships with other nations like it has done with Mexico, said Wiggins.

"We are getting back into a cooperative state," he said. "I can tell you the synergy we have created with SEDENA has blossomed into something where relationships have carried the day."